What is faith? How does faith work? What is our faith based on? What is saving faith? What happens when our faith is shattered? Those faith questions and others are addressed in this nine-week series simply called faith.
Pastor G takes a nine-week break from his “Just Jesus” series walk through the Gospel of Mathew.
This is a series Greg first heard Andy Stanley preach way back in 2002. It had such an impact on Greg that he has preached his version of it at every church he has served since.
Today is week five and Greg focuses us in on “when god says no.”
This is week five of our series on Biblical Faith. This week is called “when god says no.” So far, we’ve said that the foundation of our faith is not our ability to interpret our circumstances. Instead, the foundation of our faith is the person of Jesus Christ. When things go wrong in our circumstances, that should not impact our faith because our circumstances are not the foundation of our faith. The foundation of our faith is a person, Jesus Christ, who 2,000 years ago came to Earth. God’s Son told us He was going to die on the cross to pay for our sins and then He did it. He predicted His own resurrection and then pulled it off. Then He physically ascended back to heaven in front of many reliable eye-witnesses. Then He went and sat back down at His rightful place, at the right hand of the Father. We said that’s why we believe what we believe, and pray the way we pray and why we worship the way we worship.
We said the secret to living a victorious life of faith lies in keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the foundation, originator, and finisher of our faith. We said that faith, as defined by Scripture, is this. Faith is the confidence that God is who He says He is and that He will do everything He has promised to do. We also talked about some things faith is not, even though many of us, in various churches, have been taught these things. We said faith is not complicated. It’s simple. We said faith is not a power. Faith is not a force. Faith is not a formula that you figure out. Faith is not like a lasso that we get around God’s neck and drag him into doing something He otherwise wouldn’t do. Faith is simply the confidence that God is who He says He is and that He will do everything He has promised to do.
We said that we can only have faith when we have a promise from God. If there is no promise, we have only have hope, not faith. We said hope is a good thing too. In fact, whenever we go to God and there’s no promise upon which to base our prayer request, we can still have hope. And because we have a good, loving heavenly Father who loves to give good gifts to his children, oftentimes God grants us our request not because He’s promised to, but simply because He loves us and He often loves to give us what we hope for. Faith, on the other hand, MUST always be linked to a promise. That brought up the question, well, then what has God promised to us then? And we said last week that in this age in which we live, God has promised us mercy and grace in our time of need. We looked at several other specific promises that still fall under the umbrella of that general promise. We pointed out that this is not yet the age of intervention. This is the age of grace and mercy but the age of intervention is coming. It is bringing with it the age of judgment.
We said, that age of intervention is coming when Jesus Christ is coming back and He’s going to intervene then the way that we oftentimes wish and pray, He would intervene now. All pain, tears, sorrow, grief, etc. will be removed from the new life of believers. But this is not that age. There is still pain and suffering in this age. In the meantime, we can have faith that He will always give us the mercy and the grace we need in our time of need. He has promised that. He has also promised that we can look forward to the day that He intervene and rearrange circumstances and change things the way we want them to be changed. And let me say again, as I’ve said every week, we have permission, in fact, we are invited to come to God with every request we hope for.
We don’t have to worry that we’re going to pray the wrong thing. God’s not going to give us the wrong thing anyway. We have absolute open communication with our heavenly Father and we can ask Him for anything we want to ask. As maturing believers, we must come to the place where we recognize God doesn’t always give us what we ask for. And oftentimes it has less to do with our faith in asking and more about His overarching plan for this world and for your life and for my life. Which all brings us to today. If you are ready to hear what God has put on my heart to share with you today, would you give me some encouragement and either say or type HIT ME WIT’ IT G! I’M READY!
Obviously, if God isn’t going to give us everything we ask for, regardless of how much faith we have, that means sometimes He says no. The way we’re going to look at this today is to look into the life of a person that we all know about, a person who had great faith, great commitment to Jesus Christ. In fact, he personally wrote almost half of the New Testament. And yet when he asked God to do something for him, to relieve him of a terribly painful affliction, God just repeatedly said, “No, I’m not going to do that.” Some of you know, I’m talking about the Apostle Paul. As you may know, his birth name was Saul. It’s important to realize that because this fellow, the apostle Paul, is a person who made incredible sacrifices for the sake of the Gospel. Here’s a person who was 100% sold out for Jesus. Here’s a person that paid the highest price in order to follow Christ. Before he became a Christian, he was popular and accepted, and admired among the Jewish community and among the leadership of Rome. He probably was pretty wealthy because of his position in the hierarchy leadership. Before he became a Christian, he was very well known.
He was respected for his intellect, his teaching ability. He was respected as a leader. He knew how to network, he rubbed elbows with the who’s who of Jerusalem. When he became a Christian, he turned his back on all of that. He later wrote that he considered all of those privileges and benefits and possessions animal excrement compared to the surpassing joy of following Jesus. He lost all his friends in the Jewish community. He had spent a long time persecuting, jailing, martyring early Christians. Then, he had his famous come to Jesus moment, many Christians were terrified of him at first. They didn’t trust him. The apostle Paul spent a big chunk of his life with few real friends and few allies. This man made a supreme sacrifice for the sake of Jesus Christ.
After his conversion to Christianity, here was a man who was full of faith. He had already lived for years with faith in God the Father and now He extended that faith to Jesus as well, recognizing that God the Son and God the Father are one. Here was a man who healed people through the power of Jesus. Jesus had given Paul that apostolic gift. The Holy Spirit of God dwelt within him. Here is a man of great faith, great standing, great commitment. Unfortunately, he had a big problem, a huge, painful problem. And so he went to God and said, “God, please change this situation, solve this problem, heal me.” and God said “No.” In a second season of his life he went back to God a second time and he said “God, please. I really need you to change this situation, solve this problem, heal me.” And God said “No.” In a third season of his life the problem, the pain was still there. He went back to God a third time and said “God, please. I really need you to change this situation, solve this problem, heal me.” And God said “No.” It was God’s final answer. “No Paul. The answer is no. I’m not going to heal you.”
But then God also said, “but my grace will be sufficient for you.” We talked about that grace and mercy promise last week too didn’t we? I love this Biblical story from the life of Paul because I know people like you know. We all know people that we look at and we watch the way they suffer, and suffer, and suffer. And we say “Lord, I understand there’s got to be some suffering in this broken world, but I think You’ve got the wrong person. I mean, God, this person is so committed to you. This person is the best Christian I know. If anyone ever deserved a miracle it is this person. I mean, I think you’ve got the wrong person, Lord. They just don’t deserve it. This doesn’t make any sense in light of what I understand about You and in light of what I understand about their life and their commitment and their faith. What’s up with this God? Why are you saying no.?”
I love this story because regardless of Paul’s serious faith and regardless of his rock-solid commitment to Christ, Jesus said, “No, I’m not going to heal you. I’m not going to take away this problem you are dealing with. Let’s look at that together. We’re going to look at 2 Corinthians 12. Certainly, if you’ve been a believer for very long, you have read through this passage. I’ve already paraphrased it but I want us to look at it together, letting Paul speak for himself, and then I want to show you some specific lessons that we can learn from this part of the Apostle Paul’s life, especially as it relates to our nine-week discussion of faith. Why is it sometimes that God says no? Even when we ask with rock-solid faith? We say “I KNOW that You CAN and I humbly hope You Will.” Why does God sometimes say no and how does that relate to this whole question of the promises of God and the goodness of God? Some context first. Some C.I.E. Context Is Everything.
Paul has just finished sharing about an amazing vision and revelation the Lord has given to him. An out-of-body experience in heaven. Then he writes this:
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. ~ 2 Corinthians 12:7b
Notice, that the apostle Paul knew why God allowed this to happen. He was so gifted. He had been exposed to such incredible revelations from the Lord Jesus Himself. He had a visit not only from the risen Savior, like the other Apostl’s did, also, the ascended Jesus appeared to Saul to convert him into Paul. Because of all of that Paul had a great potential for conceit and for pride. Paul tells us here, in order to keep him humble, God allowed the Apostle Paul to have something that was so devastating, that was so overwhelming, that was so constantly painful and unnerving that it actually served the purpose of keeping this very gifted Christian humble. It virtually guaranteed that he would never become proud. That he would always lean upon and depend upon God.
We’ll talk more about this in our Shattered Faith message week, week 8. But it’s not really that God personally GAVE to Paul this painful thing. It’s really just that God allowed it to happen. God did not stop it from happening, so in that sense, Paul felt like God gave it to Him. It’s not that God planned to intentionally hurt or torment Paul. Now, let me ask you a question. What would have to happen in your life? What would have to happen to you in your life to absolutely ensure that you never had any pride? Probably something pretty significant, wouldn’t it? What would it be? Something that would just guarantee that no matter what you knew, who you knew, what you accomplished, that when all was said and done, there’s no way you’re going to have any pride because of this thing.
That’s the nature of this thorn in the flesh – whatever it was – that the apostle Paul lived with. And he says in this passage that it tormented him. He uses the Greek word kolaphizó which means to repeatedly strike with the fist. Imagine, every day, all day long, someone just punches you in the gut, over and over and over again, 24-7, a constant source of pain. It was so debilitating for Paul, it guaranteed he’d never become proud. Now, every preacher who’s ever preached this passage, every book you have ever read about it, every footnote, every commentary, has speculated on what this thorn in the flesh actually was, what this so-called messenger from Satan actually was. Some people think it was malaria. Some people think it was an irritable bowel problem or crones disease. Some people think he had an eye problem. Some people think it was his mother-in-law. The speculation goes on and on and on. What was the Apostle Paul’s thorn in the flesh? Here is some more C.I.E. – Some Context IS Everything from two chapters earlier in this same letter. Paul writes about some regular criticism he hears from his critics.
10 For some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.” ~ 2 Corinthians 10:10
The Greek word Paul uses that we translate as “unimpressive” is the word asthenés. It means without strength, physically or morally weak, infirmed, sickly. He evidently just didn’t appear very healthy. So I imagine the thorn in the flesh was some kind of physical affliction that was embarrassing and humbling. I think that Paul had some kind of physical illness or thing that made him the sort of preacher that you would want to sit about 20 rows back and take notes, but you wouldn’t want to invite him home for lunch because you know.
He’s got that thing, you know? No matter what he accomplished or who he knew, he was never going to become proud because of this thing, probably some sort of physical illness that was very visible and evident to other people. Maybe a bad skin disease or something. Not something he struggled with privately, but something that was evident to all. It sort of was a barrier oftentimes. And consequently, he never became proud. God had the authority and power to remove it from Paul and Paul repeatedly begged the Lord to heal him of it. Look at 2 Corinthians 12:8
8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. ~ 2 Corinthians 12:8
This probably isn’t three times in a row on the same day. This probably isn’t even Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. This is probably three long seasons of prayer. Paul says he repeatedly pleaded with the Lord for deliverance. The Greek word is parakaleó. He called out to, entreated, begged, pleaded with. Lots of tears are involved in this word. Desperation. Lord, please take it away from me, please. Please. Please. You can relate to that prayer some of you yeah? What was God’s response? Look at verse 9.
9 But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9a
In other words, “Paul, no. I am saying no to all of your pleadings. I am not going to remove your thorn. However, I promise that I will give you the strength and I will give you the power to endure the thorn. I will give you the strength and the power to continue on in the ministry I’ve called you to, to continue on in the relationships you need to have, to continue on preaching and teaching and writing. But I’m not going to remove the thorn.” If I can expand based on all the other context that we’ve studied in the four weeks of this series before today, God is also communicating to Paul:
“No matter how much faith you have, no matter how much commitment you have, no matter how much hope you have, no matter how much you believe differently, no matter how long you pray, no matter how many tears you shed, Paul, the answer is still no, I will not remove the thorn, but, I promise you, My grace will be sufficient for you. I will not deliver you FROM these circumstances, but I will deliver you THROUGH these circumstances.” We read that and let’s be honest, we kind of go “Wow! That seems pretty unfair. That seems pretty harsh.”
If you were the father and it was your kid, in pain, crying, begging for you to fix it, and you had the ability to make it right, to fix it quickly, but you knew it was a greater benefit to them in the long run and to others they would positively impact in the future, would you have the strength to say no? God does. He knows this life, Paul’s life was temporary, transient, quickly fading. This pain would only be for a short time on the scale of eternity and keeping the pain would allow Paul to accomplish far more for the Kingdom purposes of God. So, I’m going to have you keep the pain Paul. But you aren’t in it alone. I am with you. My grace and My power are with you. My power, grace, and purposes shines brighter from you, the weaker you are personally. And then Paul’s attitude changes. Watch this!
9 But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9
All of a sudden there’s this attitude change. Here’s this thing he’s begging God to remove but God gives him some insight. You will accomplish way more for me if you keep this painful thing. So Paul’s conclusion is, “Oh, well then, I take it back. This is good. Pour on more and more human weakness instead!
Now I see what God’s doing. Now I understand God’s perspective. And what seemed bad to me God is actually using for good, because now I see that here is an opportunity for God to demonstrate His power in my life in a way that otherwise He would be unable to do. This keeps me from being tempted into the sin of pride thinking all of this brilliant stuff I am writing and teaching and speaking is coming from me. This makes sure I always remember it is all coming from God!
Paul says “Ok God, if a weakness serves as an opportunity for You to make Yourself known through me in a more significant and unique way then, hey, have at it. I will now boast about my weakness. In fact, give me more weakness God. It reminds me of John the Baptist’s initial attitude about Jesus – “I must become lesser and He must become greater.” What an attitude Paul has! What a perspective! I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness so that the Christ power may rest on me. Then, let’s look at verse 10. Paul finishes telling us what he learned from that experience. He says:
10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. ~ 2 Corinthians 12:10
Now that’s just unbelievable yeah? I mean WOW! What a perspective! Instead of hanging on and saying, “God, I don’t accept no for an answer from You. I’m just going to hold on and keep praying. I’m going to stay in prayer until you change it. I’m going to believe even harder. I’m going to beg. I’m going to pray. I’m just going to believe, believe, believe. I won’t take no for an answer, I have faith!” No. The Apostle Paul is our example. He took no for an answer and he said, “Ok, Lord. I asked three times just to be sure I was hearing from you but You’ve given me the same, consistent answer every time.”
“So, okay. If no is no, then I accept that. And I look forward to experiencing exactly how your grace will be sufficient for me and what I will be able to accomplish for the kingdom through it. In this time of desperation, in this need, I look forward to seeing how your strength will compensate for my weakness.” Isn’t that incredible? That’s our Scriptural model, our Scriptural example of how we should react when God says no. Now, I want to give you six statements real quickly. Six lessons we can learn about faith from this encounter with Paul’s “No answer that he received from the Lord Jesus Christ. We’ll put these up on the screen. You may want to jot these down. These will be on the website by tomorrow if you miss one, you can go grab it there.
We’ll go through quickly and then spend some time on the last one. The first one, we’ve already talked about several times in this series but we are reminded of it again in this passage from Paul’s life.
1) We have permission to ask God for anything we want.
Paul was in pain. He had an immediate need. He went to God with his need. That’s what we are supposed to do. We have permission to ask God for anything. That’s the freedom we have in Christ. As we said last week, we can boldly approach the throne of Grace in confidence and receive mercy and grace in our time of need. We have both His permission and His invitation to ask Him for anything. God of course, as we’ve just seen,
2) God can always choose to say no.
Not your faith, not your commitment, not your good works, none of that compels God to say yes in every situation. Not your belief, not your hope, not even your faith is a magic button that makes God do things He doesn’t want to do. Faith doesn’t work that way. God can always say no. In fact, as I’ve studied and as I’ve watched people and suffered alongside people, I’ve learned this. It takes a lot stronger faith to endure God’s no than it does to endure His yes. I’ve said this before but let me say it again. It’s the people who live with constant weakness like Paul did, and the people who allow God’s strength to compensate for their weakness like Paul did. Those are the people who blow me away with their faith. I love seeing and hearing the wild miracle healing stories same as you. But it’s the people who live with enduring weakness, constantly dependent on the Lord Jesus Christ. Those are the men and the women and the teenagers and the children whose faith just blows me away. Even common sense argues for the fact that it’s harder to keep the faith when you have to endure God’s no answers than it does when you acquire a yes from Him. 1) We have permission to ask God for anything we want. — 2) God can always choose to say no. —
3) God always has a good reason for saying no.
Now, the problem is, like the apostle Paul, we go through phases and stages of life where we don’t at first, or maybe not ever, we don’t know WHY He said no. What does it take on our part to accept God saying no? It takes faith. “God, I don’t know why you said no, but I trust you. I don’t understand why You’ve said no. I don’t understand why You’ve sort of left me hanging, in pain. But I trust You. So I’m okay with Your no answer. Why? Because I’m confident that You are who You say You are. And I’m confident that You will do everything You have promised to do. You see, it takes real faith to endure God’s no. There’s always a reason for God saying no. Sometimes we’re fortunate enough, like Paul was here, for God to reveal to us the reason. But the truth is, most of the time, most of us may never know the reason until we’re in heaven. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a reason.
1) We have permission to ask God for anything we want. — 2) God can always choose to say no. 3) God always has a good reason for saying no. — I don’t like number four much.
4) In God’s economy, character takes precedence over comfort. This is tough to wrap our “God is love” theology around but this is what Paul teaches us. Our Heavenly Father was willing to allow one of his choicest, best, most productive servants to suffer for the sake of his character. It was so important to the Lord Jesus Christ that Paul remains humble, that Paul remains a man of character, that He allowed Paul to suffer some grievous discomfort, comparable to being punched in the gut over and over and over again 24-7 for the rest of his life. In God’s economy, character takes precedence over comfort. And you know why? Because the ultimate value from God’s standpoint is glory. And He knows that when you and I become men and women who are saturated with the character of Jesus Christ, that eventually it will cause men and women to say, why are you like that? Why did you say that? Why wouldn’t you go? Why didn’t you stay? Hey, why don’t you just get out of that relationship? Why are you the way you are? We point them to God and glorify Him.
When they notice and complement our character, especially in the face of extreme discomfort, that gives us an opportunity to reflect back to God all the glory that He deserves. That’s why character takes precedence over comfort. If there comes a time in your life, or a time in my life when God has to make a choice, then don’t be surprised if God sends us down the route of character at the expense of what’s comfortable. That’s just God’s way. But you know something? I’ll be a better husband for it. You’ll be a better wife for it, and you’ll be a better parent and grandparent, a better employee and a better boss for it.
Because character so oftentimes is the oil that makes relationships work. So God’s priority is character, not comfort. His priority is the clear demonstration of His power rather than the furtherance of our pleasure. God is far more interested in demonstrating His power in your life than He is in making sure you are comfortable. It’s definitely not about health and wealth and prosperity 24-7. That’s what we clearly see in the life of the Apostle Paul, who once again was a man full of faith and full of commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. Who walked away from all earthly pleasures, considered them animal excrement compared to what he called the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Chris as His Lord and Savior. 1) We have permission to ask God for anything we want. — 2) God can always choose to say no. — 3) God always has a good reason for saying no. — 4) In God’s economy, character takes precedence over comfort. — Number five – this one is pretty evident by now.
5) God never promised to remove all the thorns of life.
We talked about promises, promised last week. This is a promise we just don’t have. Folks, I want it just as badly as you do. And I would bet you I complain as loud and as consistently as anyone in this room about the thorns of life. Ask Annette. I am a first-class, world champion whiner whenever I am sick or hurt. Like all of you, I would certainly much prefer it if God removed all the thorns in this world. But God has never promised to remove the thorns. Not in this life. God uses this pain to fulfill a greater purpose in Paul’s life. Paul living unhealed, in pain, was not a victory of the devil or the result of a lack of faith on Paul’s part or a lack of faith on some other person’s part. God never promised to remove the thorns of life. Listen, don’t miss this. Listen.
If the focus of your prayers and if the focus of your faith and if the entire focus of your whole Christian life is trying to get God to remove every single thorn out of your life, and out of the lives of all of your loved ones, then you’re in for one long, frustrating experience as a Christian. As we’ll see in a minute, that kind of misunderstood faith, that kind of wrong focus will actually short circuit the grace of God in your life. Do we have permission to ask Him to remove the thorns? Absolutely. It is something we can have hope for but it’s not something, usually, that we can have faith for. In most cases, it’s not something that God has promised to remove.
Now, on occasion, as we talked about personal promises last week, sometimes, God does promise you to do a miraculous healing, a miraculous thorn removal in your life. But that’s not the standard situation. That’s not a blanket promise to everyone everywhere all the time. And again, when you think you’ve gotten the personal promise of thorn removal from God, like we talked about last week, hold onto that promise with an open hand. Because we are notorious for misunderstanding the will of God.
1) We have permission to ask God for anything we want. — 2) God can always choose to say no. — 3) God always has a good reason for saying no. — 4) In God’s economy, character takes precedence over comfort. — 5) God never promised to remove all the thorns of life. And then number six, and here’s where I want to spend a little extra time.
6) God’s grace is sufficient for you.
I want you to say this with me. I want you to say “God’s grace is sufficient for me.” Would you say that with me as a strong statement of faith? God’s grace is sufficient for me? I want to say it again. This is a promise God made to Paul and to you and me. His grace is sufficient for us. We can have faith in that because it is a promise of God. He has promised us His power and strength and support in times of difficulty. He has not promised to remove your weakness or injury or illness. He has promised to demonstrate His power in and through your weakness.
And here’s why. Listen. Don’t miss this. Listen. Your point of weakness is the best arena for God to demonstrate His power in your life. The point of your greatest weakness is the place where God can demonstrate more of His power in your life than any other place. If you’re a person who would say, “Well, I’ve been a Christian, but I don’t see God working in my life, I don’t see the grace of God, I don’t see it. I don’t feel it.” Then I would make this prediction about you. You are a person who, instead of allowing God to invade your weakness with His grace, you are a person who is trying to overcome your weakness with your own human ingenuity, with your own talent, with your own financial situation.
I would make this prediction about you. You are a person who has learned to humanly compensate for your weaknesses instead of just allowing God to invade it and inhabit it and shine His power, grace, and glory through it. If you reject that and don’t embrace it for the gift it really is, then the tragedy is, not only does your weakness still not go away, you also miss an opportunity to experience God more clearly and more fully. Why? Because When your faith intersects with His faithfulness, you finally know Him. You can’t possibly miss him. And the point of your greatest weakness is the place where God wants to do the most work in your life and to do it in a way that it is so evident to other people that He will end up getting glory from them and they will get saved in the process.
If you want to see God’s grace and power at work, I mean really work in my life, you don’t necessarily watch me preach and teach. I mean, this isn’t the point of my greatest weakness. Writing, speaking, and teaching, this is, humanly speaking, one of my strengths. If you want to see God work in my weakness, show up with me doing hospital visitations. I’ve shared before about some trauma in my life related to hospitals that just makes that kind of visitation incredibly difficult and painful for me. I drive into the hospital parking lot and I start feeling sick. I can smell what the hospital smells like in my car in the parking lot. It just overcomes me. I’m praying in the car, in the parking lot in the front door, in the hall, in the elevator, in the next hall, in the doorway to the room. “God, you know, I can’t do this.” This is, I mean, I’m at my lowest level. It’s not that I don’t love the person I’m visiting. God, if I’m going to go in there let me be comforting. Let me not be a part of the problem rather than a part of the solution. You’ve got to empower me because I don’t do well. I really don’t do well in hospitals. I know, that’s a real comfort for all of you right? Oh, great. We have a pastor who doesn’t like to come to the hospital.
It’s not that I don’t want to comfort and encourage you and visit with you and pray for you. I do. It’s just, inside, I am freaking out with anxiety so much it is hard to stay focused. It’s hard to find the right words to say. When I leave I feel like I failed you in every way. That takes a lot of God’s grace for me. And you know it’s something I’ll maybe never do well. But that’s OK because I’ve learned that His grace is sufficient for me. I go away feeling like a failure but then I hear from people that I was actually very comforting. They felt God’s presence through me and my prayer. In my weakness, His power and grace were sufficient. Where I am weak, there He is strong.
I’ve learned in those areas, and there are others too that I just need to cling to His grace. And I’ve seen His power demonstrated in my life in the areas of my deepest weaknesses. God’s grace is far more evident in my weakness than in my strengths. Many of you already know that because many of you, like me, already know what your weaknesses are. And you see the problem is, as long as you are in this tug of war with God, change my circumstances, change my circumstances, I’m going to find the right faith code, I’m going to tap into the faith power. As long as you’re in that running gun battle with God, trying to force faith Him into doing it your way, then you are outside the boundaries of God’s grace. You cannot experience the grace of God and argue with Him at the same time. The beginning of the grace of God in your life, we’ve talked about this a lot is “Lord, not my will, but Your will be done.”
The beginning of the grace of God is saying, “Hey, I’m willing to take no as an answer, because I believe You’re who You say You are. You’re a God who keeps His promises. If this weakness, or even just this no answer, is what You say is best for Your kingdom, then, I’m with You Lord. I don’t like it. It’s not what I’d hoped for, but I trust You. Like Paul said,
For Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
If You are choosing to make Your power known in my weakness, then I will take no for an answer. You see, all of us have weaknesses, and if the truth were known, most of our prayers are God change my circumstances. I don’t like being so vulnerable. I don’t like being so weak. I don’t like being so the way I am. God, I want you to change things so that I’m not weak and vulnerable anymore.
And a lot of the times God is going to say, “No, I want you to learn to draw on my grace because I want you to be an instrument through which people are drawn to me. I want you to live the kind of life that people finally say, why? How do you do that? How do you get through it? How can you stand that? Because that’s my opportunity through you to draw others to me. Because where you are weak, there I am strong. I’m not in the business of making weak people strong. I’m in the business of pouring my grace through their weaknesses.
Maybe you long to be married but for whatever reason, so far at least, God has said no. Maybe you long for children or another child, and so far at least, God has said no. Maybe you have an illness, an injury, a difficult or painful situation that you want out of, and for some reason God has said no. Maybe you are in a tough marriage and you really want to run for the hills but for whatever reason God has said no. Maybe you want to quit your job, go look for something better, some way to make more money, but for whatever reason God has said no. If we take no for an answer, we will experience daily the grace of God to fill that gap. I’ve prayed with hundreds of people who have learned this valuable lesson. We hit our knees at night and we say “God, I just can’t stand it anymore. God says, that’s why I want you to stay in this situation because it’s at the point of your greatest weakness that I can demonstrate my greatest power through you.
Sometimes, when I preach this I get emails, letters, texts, phone calls. People say “I disagree Greg! There is no way God would do that to me! There is no way God would allow me to suffer, to be in pain, to continually experience that weakness.” That’s fine. Come talk to me. Let’s talk through it together. Let’s pray through it together. I can tell you now what I will say. I will say, “Well, think about the poor Apostle Paul. No one was less deserving of a thorn in the flesh than Paul. Nobody was more deserving of a miracle than Paul. And yet God, in His infinite wisdom, knew that in order to accomplish what He wanted to accomplish through Paul, it was necessary to allow Paul to have this thorn that would keep him humble and focused on Jesus. This thorn that would be a constant source of irritation, a constant beating down, a thing that always separated him a little bit from people. A thing that made sure he could never become arrogant, never become proud.
God says to us today at the point of your greatest weakness, I’m prepared to demonstrate My awesome power and My grace and mercy in your life. Our job is to accept His answer when it is yes and accept His answer when it is no and simply say “Not my will but Thy will be done.” That’s how you became a Christian right? Dying to yourself and living for Jesus? That’s the definition of being a Christian, a Christ-follower. That’s the same way you live out your Christian faith. Not my will, but Thy will be done, even if Your will includes suffering. I’m not going to try to faith You into my way anymore. I’m not going to try to manipulate You into my deal anymore. Lord, you know what my hopes are. You know what my desires are. You know what my request is. But I’m taking my hands off. No longer my will, but thy will.
I am fully depending upon Your grace in my life. You see, I’m glad that God let us in on this little part of the Apostle Paul’s life, because like you, I just know too many people who I don’t think deserve the hand they’ve been dealt. I know too many people who are too righteous and too full of faith to be having to handle the sickness and injuries and the problems and trials and pain and the other things that come their way. But the great giants of the Christian faith that I have met, they’ve learned what I’m learning and what all of us need to learn that it’s not a lack of faith on their part that keeps them sick, injured, etc. It is quite the opposite. It takes stronger faith to endure God’s no answer than it does to acquire His yes. I watch as God pours His grace into their lives. He will do the same in your life and mine.
~~~~~LET’S PRAY ~~~~~
Father God, as we talked about last week, we know sometimes You show Your grace through other people. People who come alongside of us at just the right time and put an arm around us and say, “Hey, I’m here to help. What can I do?” People who come along side and hand us a check when we think, “There’s no way I can pay this bill.”People who come alongside and invite us over for dinner. People who write us a thank you note, a letter of encouragement/ We know that is Your grace God, shown through Your people.
When You tell us know God, still we’ve seen You demonstrate Your grace with power, that little extra something that comes along when we need it most to help lift us over the next hurdle, to push us through that next difficult time, to still experience victory. We hear you saying to us, “I’m not going to remove your thorn, but I promise, My grace is sufficient for you, for My power will be made perfect in your weakness. Thank You Father that when You say no to us, we know now it’s not necessarily a reflection of our faith, that we didn’t have enough faith to get a yes answer from You. Instead, so often, your no answer is an opportunity for us to become a reflection of Your grace, even in our weakness, to the people around us. Father God, we realize now, the ultimate faith victory for us would be to come to the place where the Apostle Paul came to.
Where we could finally say to You, “God, as much as I wanted you to remove this thorn, God, now, instead, since You have said no, I want to thank you for this weakness. I want to thank you for this opportunity for You to demonstrate Your power through me. When we can finally reach the point of faith where we are able to thank you for the thorns of life, that’s when we become candidates for Your amazing grace. Lord, please help us realize that it actually takes stronger faith on our part to endure Your no answers than it does to try to acquire Your yes. Help us pray the prayer of Paul Lord. “For Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. That’s my prayer for all of us, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
~~~~~LET’S PRAY ~~~~~